19th Nov 2019


How soft power built the world's 12th-largest economy

  • The Nordic cooperation has formed the backbone of politics in the entire region for more than 60 years. Here, the Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat outside the townhall in Reykjavik (Photo: EUobserver)

The Nordic Council this week (29-31 October) evicts most of Sweden's politicians from their home base, the Riksdagen, in central Stockholm.

The parliament house in central Stockholm will instead be filled with members of the parliaments of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, the Faeroe Islands, Greenland and Åland, who are gathering for the annual Nordic Council meeting.

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In total 87 MPs will be in Stockholm for the meeting and together they mirror the political composition of all the Nordic parliaments.

Without much ado the Nordic cooperation has formed the backbone of politics in the entire region for more than 60 years.

Founded in 1952, the Nordic Council is a few years older than the European Union itself, but formally it has no power and can only issue recommendations to the member states.

Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Åland are all members of the EU, while Iceland, Norway and Greenland are not.

Due to similarities in culture, language and social structures, the Nordic cooperation - without holding any hard power - has contributed to a very uniform development of the Nordic societies over that time.

It has turned the Nordic region into the 12th largest economy in the world, despite just 26 million people in total living there.

Party strengths

The Centre Group is the largest political fraction across the Nordic political landscape, sending 25 members to the meeting in Stockhom.

The Social Democrat group is second largest with 24 members, while the conservative group has 15 members. The left wing Nordic Green Left occupy 10 seats, the right wing Nordic Freedom group has nine, and four members are currently not affiliated with any of the party political groups.

Per tradition all the prime ministers are also going to be present at the Nordic Council's first day when they participate in a joint theme debate with the parliamentarians, called the Nordic Summit.

Climate and sustainability is chosen as the main theme for this year's main debate.

The prime ministers and parliamentarians are to discuss "the need for social dialogue and democratic anchoring linked to new popular, youth, and grass roots movements for climate change".

Greta Thunberg, who has more than anyone personified Swedish and Nordic youth's climate anger and ambitions, is not going to be present for the debate. But she is nominated for the Nordic Council Environment Prize 2019 to be handed out on Tuesday evening (29 October).

Michael Tjernström, professor at the department of meteorology at Stockholm University lectures on Thursday on climate. And the Nordic youth will question politicians on Monday, ahead of the main session.

The Nordic prime ministers agreed in August, at a meeting in Reykjavik, to a new joint vision on making their region the most sustainable and integrated one in the world by 2030.

The idea is to align all future policies with the overall climate target.

"We know that it's difficult to prioritise, but we must accept our responsibility. We have to show people, and not least the younger generations, that we mean what we say, and that we practice what we preach," Iceland's green prime minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir, said at Reykjavik.

Security - more than defence

Security is another key topic at the meeting in Stockholm.

The Nordic cooperation includes Nato-allied countries as well as non-aligned Sweden and Finland and has chosen to understand security in broader terms than just military defence.

Security is also about volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, forest fires, floods, extreme weather, pandemics, transport accidents, nuclear accidents, terrorist attacks, IT attacks, pollution of drinking water, oil spills in the sea and potential supply problems for fuel, electricity or food.

A new strategy for co-operation on tackling all these threats to Nordic security has been worked out prior to the session.

It includes closer cooperation between national emergency services, such as fire and rescue services, communication and police. The aim is that the Nordic countries should carry out joint exercises and exchange information automatically.

Already the emergency networks in Finland, Sweden and Norway are tied together - while Iceland and Denmark should be added as soon as possible, the strategy advises.

Meanwhile, cybersecurity should include the three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, according to the draft strategy.

Health cooperation also forms part of the plan in order to secure preparedness in the case of a pandemic and to secure supply of medicine for Nordic citizens.

Ending summertime

Members from the different political parties are able to present proposals during the session in Stockholm.

One proposal from the Centre group suggests the Nordic countries must stay in the same timezone when the switch between summer and wintertime in Europe ends in 2021.

Reykjavik currently observes Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) all year and does not change time between summer and winter. Any new system should not expand the time difference between Iceland and the other Nordic countries, the proposal also says.

The current time difference between Finland in the east, and Greenland in the west, is five hours.

One proposal from the conservative group suggests a joint Nordic approach to implementation of G5 networks.

"Above all, there are question marks around giving Chinese Huawei access to the 5G market in the light of paragraph seven in the Chinese Intelligence Act, which obliges Chinese companies to cooperate with the Chinese intelligence service," the conservative group's motivation for the proposal reads.

The Social Democrat members of the Nordic parliaments proposes that Nordic media gets a boost for their investigative journalism competencies and suggests that a master program is set up in cooperation between journalism centres in the Bergen, Århus and Göteborg.

"Media are essential for well-functioning democracies. Media shapes our view of reality, they allow room for expression and debate, they set the political agenda and oversees those in power in society and those who rules," the explanation for the proposal reads.

Nordic Magnitsky laws

The Conservative group brings a proposal to Stockholm for a common Nordic position on Magnitsky legislation in the EU.

"The Nordic governments ought to work in parallel for the introduction of national Magnitsky legislation in all Nordic countries, in the event that Magnitsky legislation is not implemented in the EU", the group says.

The US introduced as the first country in the world so-called 'Magnitsky' legislation in 2012. This type of legislation allows sanctions, for example by freezing bank accounts and refusing entry for individuals who have committed serious human rights violations.

The United Kingdom, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Canada have since introduced similar laws. The European Parliament has also on several occasions demanded that similar law should be introduced.

"In November 2019, it is ten years since Sergei Magnitsky died in his cell. By adopting Magnitskij laws we honour Magnitsky's memory and show the outside world that we do not accept this type of human rights violation", the group notes in their proposal.

All Nordic Council member's proposals are voted on in plenary and sent as recommendations to the Nordic governments if approved by a majority. 

Sustainable Arctic tourism

The Nordic Council also works through committees made up of MPs from the member states.

The committee for growth and development brings a proposal for a new joint Nordic strategy for sustainable Arctic tourism to the table in Stockholm this year.

The Arctic area attracts many tourists who wish to experience fantastic wildlife, watch the whales, glaciers and icebergs, northern lights, landscapes and local cultures.

Tourism activities in the region over the last 20 years have experienced an unrivalled growth. But it does not come without challenges.

In March this year for example a Viking Sky cruise ship off the western coast of Norway caught engine trouble during a storm and issued a Mayday call. It carried 1,373 passengers and crew.

Afraid of hitting the rocks in the storm, it anchored amid heavy seas and high winds and began to evacuate everyone on board. Over 475 passengers were airlifted one-by-one off the ship before the weather eased and the rescues could be halted.

It was a scary reminder of the need of larger capacities if something happens to the big cruise ships while sailing in the cold Arctic oceans in a harsh and unpredictable climate.

And cruise ships are not only at risk in the seas, but are also consuming much energy, and dumping waste and garbage in large quantities when harbouring.

The Nordic committee suggests that a joint strategy is formulated to regulate cruise tourism in the Arctic and to coordinate emergency and rescue resources. Typically two ships could sail together, to make it possible for one to assist in evacuation of the other if need be.

Taxation of the Arctic tourism across the Nordic region is also on the table.

Culture is key

No Nordic Council session was ever been held without a big dose of culture, which is taking up a big chunk of the yearly budget.

The total budget for the Nordic cooperation in 2020 is €130m of which almost 20 percent will be spent on culture, the third-biggest single slot in the budget.

On Tuesday, the Swedish Football Association and all the council's committees will meet to discuss a joint Nordic application to host for the 2027 World Cup football finals for woman.

Also on Tuesday, the Nordic Council announces five awards in recognition of Nordic literature, languages, music, and film, as well as innovative thinking in the field of the environment. The awards will be handed out in presence of the prime ministers.

The five winners each receive "Nordlys" statuettes and €47,000 - which is around tree times more than a Pulitzer prize winner scoops. The winners will however be obliged to pay taxes on the awards.

The Nordic Council in Stockholm may also decide to set up a new sixth award for TV after Nordic Noir productions like "Borgen" and "The Killing" have already have drawn much attention to Nordic lifestyle across the globe.

The Nordic Council meets next year in Iceland's parliament, The Alþingi, in Reykjavik as Iceland takes over the rotating annual presidency of the Nordic Council from Sweden in 2020.


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